A Little Girl & Her Mom At The Anondo Mela

Somewhere, in a parallel world, a little girl dressed in Durga Pujo finery is walking hand-in-hand with her mom. The two are going to the Anondo Mela in the Mela Ground Pandal, one of the biggest puja pandals in C.R. Park, Delhi.

“What all will we eat there, Mummum?” The little girl jangles her purse. It is full of new notes and coins that her family has given her to spend at the Anondo Mela.

“I am thinking we can start off with Ghughni, move on to Mangsho-Luchi, and end with Kulfi?”

“That sounds perfect! But first we will look at all the stalls, okay?”

“Absolutely.”

The Anondo Mela is on in full fervour. Aunties from the neighbourhood have put up stalls that sell all kinds of Bengali delicacies, handiwork, desserts. Some stalls that are manned by young college-going children sell fancier items like ‘Virgin Mohito’ and ‘Chomchom Cupcakes’. On the stage, a band is tuning their instruments, standing against a big banner that lists all the sponsors of the year. Uncles sit in the reception, handing out pamphlets of the cultural programme and collecting donations from visitors. Overseeing all this stands Durga Ma with her children, her eyes bright, thoughts and plans for the next three days filling her heart with joy.

Durga Puja C.R. Park

Several aunties call out to the little girl and her mom. Her music teacher from school. The lady of that grocery shop they always buy monthly supplies from. Their neighbour from three houses away who is renowned in all of C.R. Park for her paathi-shaapta.

They can’t decide where to go first. So, they glide through the stalls, not stopping to chat for too long anywhere, and telling everyone they had just eaten this and that. And eat they do! A bite of sandesh. A plate of amazing Chicken Hakka noodles. Some ghughni which they also get packed for Papa. Fuchkas. Golas.  Piping hot luchis!

A few hours later, the duo emerge from the pandal, their stomachs full. Their hands too are full with packed food. In the street outside, the hawkers have all collected at various corners. They are selling balloons, masks, whistles, dry papads in plastic packaging, pseudo-radium ornaments, and devil horns. It is still twilight outside. The street-lights haven’t yet come on but the market is full of glimmering fairy-lights. Business would be brisk for a few days, and everyone was all set to make the most of it.

The little girl has a spring in her step as she walks back home with her mom. It is only Shashti, the first day of Durga Puja, and she is already having so much fun. Tomorrow, there is the drawing competition in the morning. There is a new dress waiting to be worn. There will also be prasad (with the special big boondi that she loves) and khichudi-bhog in the afternoon. And in the evening, they would all go pandal-hopping, her grandfather complaining about the traffic, her grandmother inspecting her sari every now and then (which would still, inevitably, get soiled with ice-cream), and her dad trying to find auto-rickshaws to go from pandal to pandal.

She looks up at her mom; her mom smiles back at her. It is a warmth that travels all the way from that parallel world to this, lighting up my heart with joys from erstwhile times.

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Mom, The Birthday Girl

Today is my mom’s birthday. I went to wish her in the morning and she wasn’t in her room. I wondered where she had gone. Usually, she’d be fussing about, dusting this, arranging that, making me some coffee. Mornings were supremely busy for her – not that the rest of the day wasn’t. She has never enjoyed napping in the afternoon and usually undertakes massive projects like turning out old cupboards, finishing an entire novel, cleaning my bookshelves, making me a new dress, or sorting out Papa’s documents. And these projects tend to continue all through the afternoon, often alongside me, both of us working steadily on something or the other. Continue reading

Why Evenings Have Changed

Sunset
It is early evening. I can hear the birds chirping excitedly, convening to discuss the night’s meal and if the chicks are going to be happy with what they are taking home. The lights have started coming on in the windows I can see from mine; there are candles in some. An old man is slowly walking on the pavement, carrying a bagful of pastries for his grandchildren. I can hear their faraway giggles from the neighbourhood’s park; they are glad the swings are no longer covered in snow. Perhaps they aren’t his grandchildren. Perhaps his grandchildren are away, in another country, and he only gets to talk to them on Christmas and birthdays. Maybe he is taking the pastries for his wife. Maybe for himself. But I digress.
Continue reading

Year-End Resolutions – or Not – and Some Thoughts

New YearIt’s that time of the year again. When the year that’s been by your side all this while starts feeling old, and you can’t wait to shake it off, like a bad habit, and embrace the new. Or, at another extreme, you cannot let go of all that the year has shown you, and are afraid that the coming year may not be as compassionate. At this time every year, many of us ritually go through the process of thinking about resolutions. In simple terms – what can I do to become a better and happier person in the times to come? Sounds very noble when put like that, doesn’t it? After all, what’s the human spirit if not keen on bettering itself continually? When I think about it, there are so many resolutions I could make. Continue reading

Ghosts From the Past

Our paper skeleton didn’t look half scary. To be honest, he had such a goofy smile on his paper face that he couldn’t scare anyone even if he started jumping on the parapet. By his side, our felt-paper witch stood demurely, waiting it out till the sparkle on her hat dried.

“They make quite a pair, don’t they?” I asked Mom, nudging her as she put some final touches on to our jack-o-lantern. It was quite a task placing it at a location where our curious cats wouldn’t be able to overturn it and create a fire hazard. I watched as she carefully set it aglow and put the lid back on. The stairway lit up – a soft, gleaming light that dispelled all melancholic thoughts of early winter, even from my granddad’s mind. He joined us in looking at it and also dropped a few chocolates into the owl-shaped pouch we had hung by the window. We hadn’t explained to him yet what it was that we were celebrating. But he knew very well that chocolates were universal tokens of celebration. Continue reading

Why This Durga Puja Is Entirely Different

Durga Puja in CR Park

The sun is a beautiful shade of gold. The birds are chirping more often, almost glad that a long and dehydrating summer is on its way out. The air is fragrant – with the distant aroma of khichudi-bhog that hordes of people will queue up to eat. There’s no doubt about it – Durga Puja is here.

For a couple of wonderful days starting now, days that make up for everything else the year brings forth, C.R. Park in Delhi will celebrate merriment and gaiety. Children will dress up in their new clothes and run to the pandals, buying one ice-cream after the other from the many carts. The stage will abound in musicians and orchestras, dancers and nervous little volunteers making announcements related to the prasad and the anjali. By night, the lanes outside my house will be lit in a million colours, the fairy lights in no mood to sober down till long after the year has bid adieu. It will be a sight to behold. And here, miles away from it all, I will behold the sight only in my memories. Continue reading

There’s Something Very Special About This Morning

Schönbrunn Palace

It rained last evening, and well into the night. I didn’t see much of it as I was tucked in bed, tired out after the long walk in the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace. I dreamt of the people who must have lived there years ago, their gowns and dresses long and flowing, their kitchens fragrant, their mornings occupied in tending to the glorious gardens. In fact, when I woke up this morning, I still felt half inside the palace, imagining myself to be a house-member, perhaps the princess who had two big, furry dogs and an apple strudel for breakfast every morning. It took me a while therefore to realize the skies outside had changed… Continue reading

Back To The Jungle

* Winning Entry in Disney’s My Mowgli Memory Contest *

Jungle Book

It was a late-winter Sunday morning in Delhi and still dark outside. The household was asleep. I tip-toed out of my bed, put on a jacket, and rushed to the washbasin. The floor-boards were chilly, the water even worse. But I didn’t mind. Before everyone woke up, I had to shower, put on fresh clothes, pray, and finish my homework. Erm, in case you have pinned me down as this ideal, unreal kid, let me burst the bubble. There was a big reason for the big rush.

Jungle Book aired on TV on Sundays. I couldn’t miss it for the world.

Outside our living-room window, the sun was now high up in the sky. The kitchen was fragrant with weekend-special breakfast, and I knew it, a chocolate pastry for me. Meanwhile, in the jungle, Mowgli the man-cub was being raised by a family of wolves. He had two excellent friends – Baloo, the bear and Bagheera, the panther. They hadn’t a soft bed or fluffy paranthas, and lived in perpetual fear of Sher Khan. But despite this, they were a bunch of happy folk. They were also my role models.

My family, predictably, latched on to my Jungle Book love, and used it to sell whatever point they were making. So, when I came back from school one day, my shirt all soiled with mud, Granny would go “Looks like our Mowgli jumped into a jungle puddle!” Or, if I crept behind Mom when the neighbours brought out their dog, she would remind me “Darling, he’s no Sher Khan!” You get the idea. This is why even though my home was well-lit, comfortable, and in the heart of the city, there was an aspect of the jungle to it. In my mind, there were mysteries right behind the fridge, or in the store-room, or in the dark of the attic. Almost within reach.

I say almost because I could never hold on to time. To be honest, I didn’t even try. Growing up seemed so tempting, so full of big and new experiences. So I grew up. There was holiday homework, then college assignments, then work deadlines. Unlike the freedom of the jungle, and the simplicity of those early Sunday mornings, life now presented complicated challenges. There was a time when achievements the size of Colonel Hathi came easily. Memorizing the lyrics of “Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai, Pata Chala Hai”, for instance. And now, one of the most daunting achievements was finding satisfaction.

I wonder how it will be to see my favourite people from the jungle all over again. They will have new and interesting voices, in a virtual world more real than ever before. In the Hindi version, I especially look forward to Irrfan Khan as Baloo and Om Puri as Bagheera – rich, powerful voices to portray the most adorable friends (and bodyguards) ever! Times have changed since the Jungle Book of my childhood, and we have reached new, fantastical standards of film-making. 

This Friday, I will sit with 3-D glasses over my spectacles, and let Disney carry me effortlessly into the depths of the jungle. There, waiting for me, will be all my friends of yore – the happy-go-lucky Mowgli, the affectionate Baalu, the strong and sensible Bagheera, and all the rest. Together we will re-create the beautiful and innocent land of childhood, still untouched by time.

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I’m blogging about #MyMowgliMemory at BlogAdda.

Picture Credit: The Hindu

Chirp No More

He was there when I opened the door to the balcony, chirping away with all the strength he could muster.

“What is it?”

He replied in monosyllables. “Chirp. Chirp. CHIRP!”

Confused, I looked around into the evening. The sun was setting, lending a golden glow to the plants in our little, slightly messy, garden. The sky was alive with groups of birds returning to their nests, in time for the evening snack – a freshly caught worm! In fact, some members of his family could also be seen near the roadside shrubs, chattering away about climate change.

“Why are you sitting here all alone? Go out and play.” Continue reading